Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu

Bijoy Venugopal
Yahoo! India News

The Nilgiris -- literally, the Blue Hills -- are home to the highest hill stations in southern India, the most famous of which is Ooty. India’s British masters, who discovered the charm of these hills, were quick to plant pine, cypress and wattle to make themselves at home in its charming “English” environs. The planting of eucalyptus (for the aromatic medicinal oil) and tea followed. With that, the rolling meadows and the sholas, the dense high-altitude forests unique to the region, suffered. There are parts of the Nilgiris that retain their wild beauty, and Kotagiri has the last truly wild stretch of natural shola, Longwood Shola.

Kotagiri is the home of the Kota tribes and is full of picturesque trekking trails. It lies below the busy town of Ooty and above its sibling Coonoor. A wall of hills protects it from the fury of the southwest monsoon, which makes its climate milder and more hospitable.

Among the sights, the picturesque St Catherine Falls clearly tops the list. Go to Kannerimukku to rediscover the home of the first European resident of the Nilgiris, John Sullivan, who was also the Collector of Coimbatore. His bungalow was built in 1819, a few years before he laid the foundation for Ooty. Walk in to view ancient photographs, tribal art, and implements used by the Kotas, Badagas, Todas and other tribes of the Niligiris.

Nature lovers can watch wild elephants wander carefree in the forests surrounding the “folding hills” of the Rangaswamy Peak. Chase after bright-winged butterflies and rare birds such as the Nilgiri Laughingthrush.

Follow the historic Nilgiri Mountain Railway along the track where the Bollywood hit song sequence Chhaiya-Chhaiya was shot. And don’t forget to shop for ginger biscuits at Royal Bakery or for eco-friendly products at the Green Shop run by the Keystone Foundation.

Read more on Kotagiri.